A Circumcision to keep the (family) peace

In some families the subject of circumcision provokes intense discussion, as you can see in the films that are part of our special exhibition “Snip it! Stances on Ritual Circumcision”. Oliwia is familiar with this difficult situation: on the one hand her Muslim husband considers it a natural part of the tradition, and on the other, particularly her Catholic father argues vehemently against it. Should she have her four-year-old son circumcised? What does she think of the practice herself? We spoke about these questions with Oliwia, as well as about her final decision.

Oliwia*, what different factors affected your family’s conflict over whether to circumcise your son?

Black and white photography: Boys in uniforms on a stage

“Boys before their Circumcision”, photo from the series “Turkish in the Ruhr district”, Cologne, 1983 © Henning Christoph / Soul of Africa Museum

My husband is Moroccan and Muslim. My background is Roman Catholic, although I converted to Islam in 2006. We had a son four years ago and from the beginning it was clear for my husband that Jamal would be circumcised. It’s a part of the tradition for him and it symbolizes a man’s identification with Islam.

It wasn’t so clear for you?

No. Actually, I’m  continue reading


“Part of something greater”: A conversation about a ritual circumcision that vanquished the past

Coloured photograph of the circumsion ceremony in the synagogue

“A ceremony with friends and family”: The bris of Jaal, photo: William Noah Glucroft

In the last few weeks at “Blogerim” we have reported on the discussions that the subject of circumcision can prompt. We shouldn’t lose sight, though, of the fact that the ritual is a matter of course for most Jewish and Muslim families – as, for example, for Amitay and Meital from Israel. I asked the couple what their son Yaal’s bris was like for them.

In mid-December you had Yaal circumcised by a mohel at the Fraenkelufer Synagogue. Did you have to think about it for a long time?

Meital: For me, there was no question.

Amitay: Same here. But when the time approached, I did have some questions.

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On the hamster wheel of argumentation

I’m not sure what time it is, but it’s already light out. My alarm clock will go off soon. My eyes are already open – the sky is its usual grey. In the space behind my eyes, arguments are going around and around – legal, religious, social, and medical. My tongue doesn’t move but my thoughts speak all the lines of this drama. Right now I’m going around and around on the hamster wheel of an argument that I got dragged into on a tour I gave the day before of the special exhibition “Snip it! Stances on Circumcision.” Every time I thought I had explained to this visitor the profound differences between ritual circumcision of boys and female genital mutilation, she would bring us back into an argumentative spiral.

Visitors in the exhibition room in front of different naked and male sculptures

Visitors in the exhibition room “On the Knife’s Edge” © JMB, Foto: Jule Roehr

Despite Cilly Kugelmann’s assertion that we don’t want to use “Snip it!” to continue the 2012 debate about ritual circumcision; despite an exhibition that addresses, above all, the cultural and historical background of the ritual; despite my careful presentation in the tours, where I aim to encourage visitors to really see and understand, and not to judge and argue; despite the many visitors who embrace my suggestions with great openness and interest:  continue reading